Posts by Tag / Thought (188)


The trick is, when you're hooked on a game, you...

The trick is, when you’re hooked on a game, you need to harness that for good. For example, I bought a mini-elliptical to exercise at my desk. It sat in its box for a few days, and then I told myself I couldn’t play Final Fantasy XIV unless I was on the elliptical. No grinding in the game unless I was grinding in real life.

Less than an hour after that, I had the elliptical fully assembled and was stepping on it while questing through Eorzea.

My daily step count has been much higher since then.


Gaze Sometimes Into the Abyss, Lest You Forget it is There

I still remember how I lost myself in World of Warcraft.

I remember looking up from my laptop screen and realizing I hadn’t left my apartment in over a week. I’d just—gotten up in the morning, plunked down on my futon, played WoW all day, and gone to bed, again and again and again.

I wasn’t addicted, really. What I was was complacent. My life was in a darker place then, with decaying friendships and uncertain employment prospects. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything real. And it all seemed so scary and risky - especially after some events in my personal life had shattered what I’d thought was my closest friendship and my poor reaction to those events had gotten me fired from the best job I’d ever had. Why put myself back out there? Why work on building new relationships and finding a job when I could just end up burned again?

I filled the gaps with WoW instead, and it was more than happy to oblige. WoW was specifically and masterfully designed to provide the illusion of progress, the illusion of working together toward a shared goal. It sated my appetite but left me empty, giving me everything I wanted and nothing I needed.

I still don’t know if WoW was there for me when I sought comfort, or if it took advantage of me when I was vulnerable. Probably a little of both. Regardless, when I looked up from that screen and saw what I’d become, what I’d chosen to be, it sickened me and I canceled my subscription.

It’s been several years and my life has changed a lot since then. But I still remember the darkness. And this is why playing Final Fantasy XIV today leaves me with an occasional feeling of vertigo.

It’s like I’ve returned to hike a trail cut into the side of a mountain. It’s a lovely walk, especially with friends, but all I have to do is turn my head and I can see that just a few steps off the trail is a great yawning abyss.

I don’t think I’m going to fall into it again. I’m stronger now, more sure-footed, with more anchors to keep me on the path. But it’s still there, it’s always there, and to pretend otherwise would be to invite disaster.


Senran Kagura Peach Bawl

The latest Senran Kagura game, Senran Kagura Peach Ball, is a light-hearted comedic out-of-genre spin-off (it’s a pinball game where you have to restore the girls who’ve accidentally been partially transformed into animals by putting them on a pinball table and smacking them with the ball). So was Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! (Hanzō gets hungry and offers a wish-granting ninja scroll as reward for a cooking competition played as a rhythm game) so comparisons are inevitable.

Both games have the standard Senran Kagura trappings like the dressing room but none of the standard brawling - there’s only the out-of-genre gameplay which is solid but not spectacular. You have to enjoy both that genre and the Senran Kagura brand of fanservice and humor to enjoy the game. I like rhythm games and not pinball; I liked Bon Appétit! and didn’t get into Peach Ball. But Peach Ball actually left me outright sad and I think it’s because of the health of the franchise now versus when Bon Appétit! came out.

Recent Senran Kagura games have felt a bit slim for their price tag, and the comparison between Peach Ball and Bon Appétit! puts that in sharp relief - the more recent game has less content and does less to develop its characters.

Bon Appétit! has all twenty-two girls who were established by that point in the series, each with a unique theme song and set of themed dishes to cook which are the game’s levels. Story mode has a short campaign for each of the twenty-two girls based on why they want to win the competition (and in most cases, what they’d use the ninja scroll to wish for).

Peach Ball has only five characters - the same ones from Reflexions. (Plus Haruka to frame the plot.) The five girls each get… a unique animal transformation costume. And the game’s levels consist of only two similar pinball tables.

But more than that, Bon Appétit! came at a time when Senran Kagura was in a position of strength. It was right after Shinovi Versus had come out - a game which advanced and expanded the series’s story and world, and which was the first to get a physical release in the US. Bon Appétit! thus felt like a fun extra bonus for a healthy franchise (the cross-buy DLC with Shinovi Versus helped that even more). It was okay that it didn’t advance the story; there was good reason to have confidence that would happen in the mainline games. It was just a fun way to spend more time with the characters and see them in a different light - and whichever one was your favorite, she was in there.

Peach Ball came out with Senran Kagura in a much iffier position. The past few games have been in a narrative stasis with no real progress in plot or character development, and though many of them add more girls their worlds have been feeling smaller. The next game, 7even, is supposed to finally move things forward, but has run into problems mid-development with changes in what platforms are willing to publish and studio director Kenichiro Takaki announcing his departure. It’s hard to know what to expect, and that makes it harder to view Peach Ball as an extra bonus to a healthy franchise. It’s barely even a way to spend more time with your favorite characters - it’s only got a fraction of the cast and shines hardly any new light on them. It’s a reminder of what threatens to become the new normal: unambitious, exploitative games with shallow characters and absurd plots that provide titillation and middling gameplay without a foundation of moral and emotional depth.


Dragon Quest Builders shouldn’t block free play with the story

One thing that both Dragon Quest Builders games are weird about is the relationship between the story campaign and the free mode.

In DQB1, you can access the free mode (“Terra Incognita”) right away, but many recipes and resources are locked behind completion of the respective chapters of the story campaign. Since the entire point of Terra Incognita is to build freely, this makes the early access a pointless compromise since you have to play through the entire story to unlock everything.

In DQB2, things are more unified and the free mode (“Buildertopia”) is not actually separate from the story mode - instead, you have to complete the story before you can access it. Then the islands where you can build freely (and engage in multiplayer!) become available as destinations.

This feels like needless audience-narrowing to me. Some number of players are interested in the story and some number of players are interested in free play, and these groups overlap but they aren’t identical. I’m here for the story and not the free play (the entire reason I play DQB instead of Minecraft or Terraria or whatever is the context provided by the story and characters) so the games do work for me, as I can finish the story and then just stop. And players who want both, specifically in this order, are of course well-served. But players who don’t care about the story and just want to build freely in a Dragon Quest world are still obliged to play through what amounts to a full-length RPG before they can get what they want. This isn’t going to be worth it for many such players, and they won’t buy the game.

In DQB2 it’s even worse, since the Buildertopias feature the series’s only actual multiplayer so far. Want to play DQB2 with your friends? I hope you all want to play through the 45+ hour-long story first! (Can you imagine if Call of Duty made players finish a campaign that long before it let them online? Or if Smash made you finish World of Light first?) This can get in the way even if you do want to play the story - I played on PS4 and then found out a friend had the game on Switch, and if I could have jumped straight in to multiplayer I might have double-dipped so we could play together. But I’m not willing to pay full price for the game again and put that much time into repeating content again. And can you imagine how frustrating it would be to lose your save (which can happen for many reasons that are not the player’s fault) and then not be able to go play with your friends anymore unless you replayed the entire story?

Maybe there’s something I’m missing, but I just don’t see a compelling reason to constrain the gameplay this much when the styles are so different. In my view, the player should have full access to free play with all recipes and materials attainable in that mode, without ever having to start the campaign. I personally wouldn’t use this, but from comments I’ve read online, plenty of players would, and this seems like an easy way to increase the game’s audience without sacrificing anything.


Final Fantasy XIV and the Final Fantasy Identity

I’ve started the free trial of Final Fantasy XIV because I hear that it has somehow become the best MMORPG and I miss playing as a healer (though since I’m soloing to learn the game I’m starting with a different class). And I keep thinking about my claim that Dragon Quest has held on to its core identity more than Final Fantasy has.

I’ve dipped in and out of both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest over the years, but while every single Dragon Quest game (including other-genre spin-offs like Heroes and Builders) is instantly recognizable to me as Dragon Quest, I wouldn’t know FFXIV is Final Fantasy if not for the title. (Aside from it having Chocobos and Moogles in it, though the Moogles are on, like, what, their third drastic redesign?)

Like, I picked the ranged magic DPS class to start, and I’ve got ice, fire, and lightning spells. Why is this class called “Thaumaturge” and not “Black Mage”? Why is its lore about funeral rites? Why have the humanoid races been renamed again? Why are all the early enemies monsters I’ve never seen before?

This is all surface-level stuff, but it’s the player’s first impressions of the game and it contributes to a general feeling of unfamiliarity that’s less welcoming than what Dragon Quest provides.

I am enjoying FFXIV and intend to keep playing for now. But I’m also curious about the Dragon Quest MMORPG and I really wish that had been localized.


The Platform is the Playstyle

I’ve now tried two console adaptations of 2.5D brawlers that were originally on the 3DS: Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal, a PS4/PC remake of 3DS title Senran Kagura Burst, and Code of Princess EX, an enhanced Switch port of 3DS title Code of Princess. Despite being from different developers, some commonalities immediately stand out that seem likely to be due to their shared origins.

  1. Levels, particularly early ones, are very short - the first ones are on the order of a minute or two.
  2. Longevity is provided through level grinding and recombining existing content (clear every level with every character!).

This sort of setup makes sense for a handheld that might be unable to hold large or complex levels in memory, might not have storage for lot of unique content, and might be played for just a few minutes at a time on a train or whatever. It makes less sense on a more-powerful home console where the player is more likely to be looking for an experience to sink their teeth into. The first time I tried Code of Princess EX, I actually put it down and played something else because I was tired of navigating menus every couple of minutes just to get into the next level.

It’s easy to forget how much the platform on which a game is released can change the design constraints and best practices for that game. (Like a game design subset of “the medium is the message”.) This is why it’s particularly interesting that PC and consoles have been becoming more similar for years, and now the Switch is bridging the gap to handhelds - while there are many upsides, we should also expect this to reduce the variety of game experiences on offer.


A Few Tips for Dragon Quest Builders 2

There are several useful things to know in Dragon Quest Builders 2 that the game doesn’t really hint at so you wouldn’t even know to try to look them up. I’ve collected a few that I stumbled on here. I expect there are more.

Apart from the first one, they are mostly for the late-game or post-game so they include some structural/mechanical spoilers. Consider yourself warned.


Literal and Figurative Walls in Dragon Quest Builders 2

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that you can’t have a fully-safe base in Dragon Quest Builders 2 while you’re doing story stuff. I noted before that this led me to rush the story bits, and got a comment saying “…I just stopped trying to make things look nice and tried to get things done faster I can get to building again”. So why does the game do this?

We don’t know the designers’ intent, but my theory is that this is about forcing a playstyle. (I actually wrote that article because I wanted to explain the concept so I could use it in this very conversation.) That article explains in more depth, but the basic idea is that a game’s designers notice that the game’s incentives are motivating players to behave in ways that don’t seem fun, but rather than change the incentive structure they simply block off or discourage the behavior they don’t want.

If this is what happened here, then presumably it went something like this: Random attacks were put in the first Dragon Quest Builders so that players would have to regularly defend their bases in order to create tension/pressure and leave the player feeling like an active protector. But in practice, a lot of players just built unbreakable defensive walls around their base, removing much of the tension and making it possible to almost completely ignore the random attacks. This also created a weird design constraint that made all bases look more alike, look less like they organically fit into the landscape, and have worse views of their surroundings.

They wanted to avoid this for Dragon Quest Builders 2. But instead of digging in to understand why players were building these walls and find ways to remove the need for the walls, they just made it so enemies could break through anything the player could build. They didn’t remove the motivation for using the strategy - they just made it so the strategy no longer worked. This meant that any player who had chosen to build the walls in the first game would probably still want to in the second game to solve the same problems, but now wouldn’t be able to solve those problems at all. It’s like the designers are saying, “Come on, you’ll have more fun if you fight enemies a lot!” and some of us frustrated players are left saying, “Did it occur to you that maybe I bought your building game because I wanted to build?”

Again, I don’t know that’s why this happened, but the outcome is the same regardless. Uninterrupted building time is positioned as a reward for completing story arcs - and in fact, once you finish the whole story you get the ability to craft an item that completely prevents monsters from spawning. So those of us who want to build uninterrupted used to be encouraged to build a wall; now we’re encouraged to rush the story instead.

For me, this makes the game worse. By far the biggest reason I enjoy the Dragon Quest Builders over something like Minecraft or Terraria is the context provided by the story and characters. That gives me a reason to build that isn’t really present in those other games. And once the story is finished, that reason mostly vanishes. The characters are still around, but they’re harder to stay invested in when they just cycle through a few lines of dialog and no longer have any goals or concerns.

In the first Dragon Quest Builders, one of my favorite things to do was to take a break from the action mid-chapter to redesign or improve my town. When I tried to do that in Dragon Quest Builders 2, it was an exercise in frustration as I was continually interrupted and often had to take extra time to perform repairs as well. So I stopped doing it and rushed the story - and then once I had uninterrupted building time, I no longer felt like there was a reason to improve the town. So I didn’t bother - and one of my favorite experiences in the game was just gone.

So what would it look like if the designers had instead modified the incentive structure so that players no longer felt encouraged to build walls? I can’t speak for every player, but for me I think the real problem is repairing. Repairing is time-consuming without being creative and to someone with my completionist/perfectionist/vaguely-OCD-like tendencies, the possibility of missing a couple blocks or items somewhere along the way (which absolutely happened in the first game) drives me batty. Attacks make me anxious because they create the possibility I’ll need to repair - if that were removed, they wouldn’t really bother me. (My evidence for this is a bit in Chapter 3 where the base gets attacked by enemies that can’t be kept out - once I realized they also couldn’t break anything, I stopped panicking when they showed up.)

In Dragon Quest Builders 2, villagers have the ability to build to a blueprint and to repair your base after story battles. If they could also repair after random battles, I think that would basically solve the problem for players like me. The attacks would still create tension and pressure and an opportunity to actively defend your base and people, but you wouldn’t be punished if you choose not to immediately drop what you’re doing and rush to handle it.

I’d definitely want to do some playtesting if I were actually in charge of a decision here, but my instinct is that this would be a better experience for everyone.


My Nintendo Selling Ads for Ice Cream

I’ve mostly become numb to the huge pile of wasted potential that is My Nintendo, but they’ve managed to surprise me today. The North American reward store is now selling advertisements for an ice cream store. They want you to spend platinum points to buy these.

The only reason I can imagine anyone buying these ads is because there’s basically nothing else to spend the points on and they expire obnoxiously quickly (in a loyalty program!).

It’s always frustrating to watch Nintendo let good ideas languish, but this is actually straight-up insulting. I almost want to just skip ahead to when they inevitably shut the program down.


Marvel’s Spider-Man: Game of the Three Years Edition

It’s not just patches that devalue physical media. Game of the Year (GOTY) bundles that include DLC via vouchers do it too.

Marvel’s Spider-Man was released by Insomniac nearly a year ago as of this writing, and it’s received a number of patches, free content updates adding new costumes and such, and three chapters of story DLC.

A Game of the Year edition bundling the DLC was announced a couple of days ago. But rather than re-press the discs with all the updated content present, it looks like it’s the same disc as always, along with a voucher for the DLC.

So anyone buying this “complete” game has to enter a code into the PlayStation Store and wait for the DLC to download. (I assume the updates as well; if they didn’t re-press the discs for the DLC I doubt they would have for the free updates.) They won’t be able to re-download any of this when the store’s not accessible.

And my favorite part? The cherry on top? There’s a tiny disclaimer in the bottom-right corner of the cover reading “DLC voucher expires 08/28/2022”.

The voucher expires after three years. There could certainly still be copies of this on the shelf then - this is the game used to sell the PS5’s performance, after all. Any copies of this bought after that point ARE JUST THE BASE GAME.